How Gates, Mullen are building US military's ties with Pakistan
Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Islamabad Thursday pledging to improve US-Pakistan relations – including building on Adm. Mike Mullen's efforts to mend fences with his military counterpart.
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But Mullen has not achieved his ultimate goal: persuading Kayani to turn against the militant networks his Army once cultivated, and which are now killing American and allied troops in Afghanistan.
In South Waziristan, Pakistan is fighting the Pakistani Taliban – a militant group that targets Pakistan itself. They are not targeting the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Pashtun leader in Quetta, Pakistan. Nor are they moving against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami around the Khyber Pass.
Mullen says Kayani is well aware of the threat posed by other groups. “He is very much aware of that threat, he knows it’s of great concern to us, and we have mutual interest in that,” Mullen said on his military jet in December. “There are in fact areas of great common interest that we’re focused on.”
Mullen’s relationship with Kayani is central to that task. Mullen doesn’t push Kayani too hard, now recognizing that Pakistan cannot be seen by its own people as an American puppet. Instead, Mullen accepts that Kayani will probably ask for what America wants to give him when it is in Pakistan’s best interests.
“[The Pakistanis] know that the offer is on the table,” said another American official, who is close to Mullen. “Mullen knows that there are lines Kayani won’t cross” to avoid the impression that he’s taking orders from the US.
But sometimes Kayani does have a “shopping list” – typically counterinsurgency must-haves like night-vision goggles and cold-weather gear.
Last year, Kayani had a bigger request. He asked Mullen for more helicopters. Mullen quickly asked his staff to “shake the trees” to find the one Kayani had requested – the Russian-designed Mi-17. Mullen’s staff found the helicopters – which the Pentagon barely knew it had.
Mullen visited Kayani again last month, meeting him in Islamabad before flying out in one of those American-supplied helicopters to the border region in South Waziristan. Kayani was eager to show Mullen the Army’s successes.
Insurgents had exploited a widely illiterate population, intimidating families to recruit male children or demanding payment of as much as 600 rupees ($7) to leave them alone.
Although about 2.4 million people were displaced, many have returned. The area is now considered one of the safest areas, says the military official in Islamabad.
“[Kayani] believes that the hearts and minds of the people have been won,” the official in Islamabad says.
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If the US is to defeat Al Qaeda and succeed in Afghanistan, it must have Pakistan's help. But Pakistan is wary of throwing in its lot with the US, seeing it as a fickle and inconstant ally. Mullen is trying to prove to Pakistan that the US is no longer just a fair-weather friend.